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A Community Celebrates A Hero

Supporters give more than $1.2 million to USC College’s Institute of Armenian Studies.

A Community Celebrates A Hero

When the Southern California Armenian-American community gathered Sunday (March 4) to celebrate the second anniversary of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies and honor a former ambassador to Armenia, generosity was infectious.

Before dinner was served, Stanley Gold, chairman of the USC Board of Trustees, challenged the 1,000 attendees to expand their support for the institute.

“I’d like you to dig deep, and I’m somebody who believes that you can’t ask others to do what you’re not willing to do,” said Gold, from the podium in the Beverly Hilton ballroom. “So my wife and I would like to contribute $100,000 to the institute tonight.”

By dessert time, Gold, president and chief executive officer of investment firm Shamrock Holdings, Inc., announced that his challenge had been answered. Albert Boyajian of the institute’s steering committee and his wife, Tove, pledged $100,000 to the institute, and several other attendees each committed $10,000. In all, the gala brought in more than $1.2 million to expand the institute’s activities.

The gala saluted John Marshall Evans, former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, who accepted appointment to the institute’s national honorary council. In 2005, Evans publicly used the word “genocide” to describe the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey in 1915.

His statements defied the policy of the U.S. government, which still does not define the deaths in 1915 as genocide. As a result, Evans became a hero to Armenia and its diaspora, but effectively ended his diplomatic career. He was recalled from Armenia last year and forced into early retirement in November 2006.

“I do find it highly unusual that anyone, even a former government official, should be honored simply for telling the truth,” Evans said, to a standing ovation.

Founded in February 2005, the USC Institute of Armenian Studies is a multidisciplinary program with a broad mission to increase understanding of modern Armenia. It represents a deepening of longtime ties between the university and the Armenian-American community.

Political scientist Richard Dekmejian, director of the Institute of Armenian Studies, laid out ambitious plans for its future, declaring that “we are focused on strengthening our academic foundations and multidisciplinary reach.”

Dekmejian announced the development of a new course in Armenian studies offered through the College’s Team Research Communities program. Plans also are in the works to establish scholarships, launch a monthly lecture and performance series, expand community outreach to underprivileged USC applicants, and forge partnerships with universities in Armenia. Future events will tackle issues of immigration and integration, and of international law and genocide.

USC College Dean Peter Starr and USC Provost C.L. Max Nikias touted USC’s ties to the Armenian-American community and support for the institute.

Starr encouraged the audience to set lofty goals, envisioning a cutting-edge collaboration between the institute and the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education to preserve and index existing video testimonies to the Armenian genocide.

“At the core of this project, as with everything the Armenian Institute does, is a profound sense of humanity and the commitment to the best of human values,” Starr said.

Nikias spoke of his personal regard for Armenian traditions, recalling growing up in Cyprus with Armenian playmates. “I admired the bonds of closeness and the spirit of decency their families displayed to everyone in our community,” Nikias said. “My life was enriched by the presence of these families and their values.”

“The Armenian-American community is unsurpassed in its love for education,” Nikias added.

The gala opened with fanfare from the Trojan Marching Band and featured Charles Ghailian, chair of the institute’s leadership council; Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church; and Harut Sassounian, president of the United Armenian Fund. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, sent a written statement of kudos for Evans.

Other luminaries in attendance included USC Trustee John King, former California Gov. George Deukmejian, U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian and former Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius.